What a World!

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

In What a World!, Freeman J. Dyson touches on the life and work of politically-active scientist Vladimir Vernadsky, author of The Biosphere, and presents this what-if:

One of the great might-have-beens of history is the world that would have emerged if the statesmen of Europe had had the wisdom to deal peacefully with the Serbian crisis of 1914. If World War I had never happened, the rapid economic growth that Russia experienced from 1905 to 1914 would probably have continued. The Bolsheviks would probably have remained a small group of outlaws without any wide following, and would not have had an opportunity to seize power. The Tsar’s government might have evolved into a constitutional monarchy, and the Kadet party might have emerged as the leader of a liberal parliamentary regime. In that imaginary world, Vernadsky might have been prime minister of Russia, guiding his country along the path of economic and scientific development, ending with full integration into the world community. After reading some of his writings, I have little doubt that he would have chosen to stay in politics if he had had the chance. He would not then have had time to resume his work as a scientist and write The Biosphere. Instead of being the founder of a new discipline of science, he might have been the savior of his country.

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